March 1, 2016

17 Places Sports Took Me

Sports have taken me all over the world. These seventeen places are on so many people's bucket lists, and I got to see them for free!

You can blame it on my sports-coaching and P.E.-teaching parents. From the moment I was born on a basketball game day in January, I lived in the gym. The legend is that I had been to sixty basketball games by the time I was three months old.

I associate sports - and maybe, more specifically, a gym - with home and familiarity. I even wrote my best university essay (according to my very particular and not-prone-to-liking-anything writing professor) on why the idea of the gym was more associated with the concept of home for me than any house ever was. You can read that piece about "Getting Stuck in the Right Place" here.

We were always traveling for sports as a family. I was a sports camp apprentice to my dad, being the ever-ready demonstrator of techniques and activities, and eventually becoming his right-hand gal for every camp he ran.

Almost anywhere I've ever traveled to has been because of sports. Even if I were to consider my European travels as non-sport adventures, I have to admit that the only reason I'm able to live in Europe is because of sports.

Two of my really awesome sport vacations have not been included in this list because I had to raise the money and pay for the trips out of my own pocket. It was my very first trip to Europe with my family on a volleyball tour in 2001, and another volleyball tour with my university to the Dominican Republic in 2007. But, yes, that means the rest of the trips in this list were: free.

places sports took me

My sporty adventure is really more of a definition for my life, and, as such, this post is going to highlight seventeen - because it is my jersey number this year, after all - of the coolest places I've been that were made possible because of sports.

1. Arizona: between playing university volleyball tournaments in the fall and coaching youth tournaments in the summer, I learned that Arizona is always hot. But we had nice hotel rooms and survived on air conditioning and smoothies.

2. Florida: my university team played our level's national championship tournament in December - when it was still warm and definitely still very humid.

3. Minnesota: in an opposite destination to Florida, we went to another national championship tournament year with more snow than I've ever seen. Welcome to Minnesota in December!

canadian rockies alberta canada
Driving through Alberta, Canada.
4. Alberta: we tied our honeymoon into a sports camp work trip, spending a week in Banff before heading down to Edmonton and Calgary for coaching. We literally got paid to go on our honeymoon, and met a ton of wonderful Canadians in the process!

5. Colorado: I partnered with a Denver-based camp coach and spent a week in Colorado three summers in a row. It's a beautiful state that I probably would have never gone to if I hadn't been handed free plane tickets.

6. Wyoming: my coworkers (more like best friends) and I road tripped through Wyoming, not once, but twice, on our way from Denver to Billings. We went through Cheyenne during Frontier Days, Chugwater for the most epic photo, Yellowstone for Old Faithful, and stopped anywhere else along the way that sounded interesting or like a location from the Oregon Trail computer game.

old faithful geyser yellowstone wyoming

7. Montana: has been a destination four times, and I've grown familiar with Billings, and even ventured as far as Sidney (basically North Dakota). Billings' best ice cream? Softies. And the downtown brewery has the coolest selection of macaroni and cheese!

8. Czech Republic: trying out for a volleyball team really launched me into the European scene. This Californian had to immediately buy a real coat and wear three (or four) layers everywhere I went. I spent three glorious days in winter Prague before being sent to...

9. Belgium: where I lived with a Czech teammate and officially began my first sports contract abroad. I quickly learned that the next three months would be more like a vacation with a bit of sports sprinkled in each week! The club handed me paychecks for volleyball, and I "invested" it in the following places, while still managing to return home with enough saved up to start again the next year!

10. Italy: was my first solo trip in Europe, and I went to the cheapest and warmest place I could fly to, Trieste. This was also the place I had my steepest learning curve of how to travel alone properly: plan transportation in advance, know opening and closing times of sites, I don't have to climb every mountain, I hate caves, and 50 degrees Fahrenheit/10 degrees Celsius weather still needs a coat and scarf.

11. France: Paris was really the only city I truly cared about visiting, and it was my first destination on my Eurail pass on Valentine's Day, 2011. I was lost most of the time I was there, but I'll never forget turning around in the Tuileries Gardens and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Paris will always have my heart.

paris eiffel tower metro seine

12. Germany: I included Germany and the Benelux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg) on my Eurail Select Pass with France so I could see as much of Europe as possible. I was still very concerned that these three months could be the entirety of my time in Europe, and I had to take advantage of it! I spent the whole day on trains along the gorgeous Rhine River.

13. Austria: after Paris, Salzburg was my next obsession because of the Sound of Music. I still frolic about and sing out loud when I trace the steps of Julie Andrews in the movie. I also learned that Salzburg is indeed a wonderful city on its own, and now I only live an hour and a half away from it!

14. Switzerland: Geneva was my first experience spending time with American expats in their adopted country. My college friend, John, and his family made it look so natural and effortless to me, and I could tell that this was actually their home. They weren't feeling like they were missing out on things back in the USA; their life was here. I began to realize that this picture could be Marc and me twenty years down the road.

15. Hawaii: I returned to America that summer after my Eurail adventures, and my camp company needed another player/coach to send with a Canadian university volleyball team to...Hawaii. Oahu, Maui, Pearl Harbor, volcanoes, beaches, snow cones, dolphins, and more! I still tell the story like I won a contest, and made even more amazing Canadian friends - one of whom also came abroad to play in France and is now married to her French husband!!

hawaii sunset
Kaila and I before we knew she'd someday become French!
16. Netherlands: I could have included Holland in that chunk of three months above, but now I go back every August to help coach the volleyball camp at the American school. I've been twice to Keukenhof in the spring as well, but now I have the chance to keep pace with the locals (and expats) for a week every summer.

17. Alaska: while Hawaii might be the most popular destination I've ever been flown to for free, Alaska is actually the most expensive. And I've gone for free...five times!!! These volleyball camp trips have been tons of wild fun, from finding bears and moose on the loose to exploring waterfalls and glaciers, from fishing for rainbow trout to trying all the delicious restaurants. I have lifelong friends from Anchorage, Wasilla, and Kenai, and I would have never made it to Alaska if it hadn't been for volleyball.

alaska waterfall hike
Gly, one of my favorite Alaskans ever.
I didn't even bother including all the places in California I've experienced for free through volleyball, like Yosemite, San Francisco, Santa Monica, San Juan Capistrano, Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Diego, Manhattan Beach - I could go on forever. But California was my home for twenty-three years, so it always felt local.

I'm not an Olympian or the record holder for wins as a coach. I'm an average-sized volleyball player at 5'9"/175 cm, and my husband, Marc, is a 5'6"/168 cm shorter-than-average basketball coach. I could keep on counting the places I've been to just since moving to Europe in 2011. But this list should suffice as evidence that sports - whether you are an athlete or a coach - can really serve as a vehicle to see the world.

university virginia
Maybe a good attitude of happy/crazy helps, too.
The only thing that probably makes us different from the gym teachers down the street at your local high school is that we take the time to ask about and explore creative opportunities. And this concept, my friends, is something that can be applied universally in every field.

I have just one favor to ask of you. Send this post to that young athlete you know who could use some motivation and a dose of hopeful reality. We may not all become gold medalists or NBA stars or millionaires, but we really can make an incredible life out of sports. I wish I had been able to read a post like this when I was seventeen years old - when I was actually considering dropping volleyball forever.

Thanks for joining me on my sporty adventures. I hope you are inspired to start your own or help someone else begin theirs!

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Our favorite posts from last week were...
Telc & Its Beautiful Square by Cynthia at Adventurings
The Pools and the Ponds, Krabi, Thailand by Joanna at Me and My Itchy Feet
Sheep in the Big City by Simply Sara Travel
Surfing in San Juan del Sur by Mishfish13
Skydive Interlaken by Courtney at Adelante Blog